CASTING DIRECTOR

“Well, Roddy,” I said. “I’m convinced that I am – er, I mean, we are – just what the film industry has been waiting for. Listen, when are you heading home for the Easter break?”

“Bus to Oban, tea-time on Sunday. Midnight sailing from Oban. Castlebay, first thing Monday morning.”

Mìorbhaileach, ille, Marvellous,” I gushed as I rubbed my hands together. “I’m coming with you. I’ve got a good feeling about this. I think the director – what’s his name again? Oh, yes, Michael Relph – this guy is going to need me . . . I mean, he’s going to need the pair of us on this film.”

Ma dh’fhaoidte, Perhaps,” Roddy said doubtfully as we entered the pub.

A week later I was seated on a bench seat in a kind of airy little snug leading off the public bar of the Castlebay Hotel. Before me, on a cigarette scarred table stood a half-full glass of whisky, the purchase of which ten minutes earlier had left me with about two pounds to last me for the rest of my week’s holiday. I stared at the little piles of coins I had assembled in an attempt to find out my current financial worth. I kept stacking them repeatedly – pennies, sixpences, shillings, florins and half crowns and moving the little piles around the table with the vacant intensity of someone in a Locked Ward. The door behind me opened and a sheet of rain driven on a keen south-westerly wind drenched the interior of the snug. A middle-aged lady wearing stout brogues and oilskin top and trousers entered. She rounded the table smartly and extended her gloved hand in greeting. Her eye shadow had run in the rainstorm outside and had given her face a vaguely vampirish aspect. This was the casting director and the one I’d have to convince that my presence on Rockets Galore was a precondition of international success.

“Oh (Ee-ow), daahlin,” she gushed, Ai’m so sorry to have kept you waiting. We’ve had a bit of a thing on the set today.”

“A thing?”

“Some of the natives . . .I mean, the sailors (sailaahs) are getting restless,” she explained. “They claim that they need to be drinking real spirits, not cold tea, in the ‘wake’ scene in order to enter into the . . .er, spirit of things. You understand?”

“Perfectly, madam.”

What’s the matter with these English people? Haven’t they heard about ‘method’ acting? Can they be unaware of Marlon Brando’s On the Waterfront?

“Name?” she barked as she unscrewed the top of a Mont Blanc pen and opened a leather-bound notebook.

“Norman Hector MacKinnon Maclean.”

“Age?”

“Twenty.”

“Present employment?”

“Oh, I don’t work.”

The casting director stopped writing, nervously adjusted her pince-nez with a buff-coloured glove, and peered at me through shiny little raisin eyes. “How do you support yourself?” she asked.

“Bursaries.”

“What?” This was the grudging, distrustful type of middle-aged crone whom you least want the mother to turn out to be when you visit a girl’s house for the first time to take her to a school dance or something.

“I go to university.”

That’s telling her, boy. Just watch her attitude change now.

“What are you reading?”

That’s more like it. Engulf her with detail, Norrie. Impress her with the breadth and depth of your knowledge.

“Almost anything I can get my hands on, ma’m.”

“No, no, no – you don’t understand . . .” She shook her head from side to side while furrowing her brows, in a feeble attempt to impersonate comprehension.

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